America Seesaws on Global Warming

Photo courtesy NOAA

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Public opinion, that dizzying pendulum, is swinging towards disbelief on the issue of global warming. According to a new national survey (pdf), public concern about global warming dropped sharply since late 2008. The researchers from Yale and George Mason universities found:

  • Only 50 percent of Americans now feel “somewhat worried ” or “very worried” about global warming, a 13 point decrease from 2008
  • Only 57 percent of Americans think global warming is happening, down 14 points
  • Only 47 percent of Americans think global warming is caused mostly by human activities, down 10 points
  • Only 34 percent of Americans believe most scientists think global warming is happening, down 13 points
  • Some 40 percent of the public now believes scientists strongly disagree over whether global warming is happening or not

Furthermore, the number of Americans who think global warming will never harm people in the US or elsewhere or other species is rising. Principle investigator Anthony Leiserowitz, whose earlier study I wrote about in the Thirteenth Tipping Point, told George Mason University:

“Despite growing scientific evidence that global warming will have serious impacts worldwide, public opinion is moving in the opposite direction. Over the past year the United States has experienced rising unemployment, public frustration with Washington, and a divisive health care debate, largely pushing climate change out of the news. Meanwhile, a set of emails stolen from climate scientists and used by critics to allege scientific misconduct may have contributed to an erosion of public trust in climate science.”

The first thing these alarming results tell me is that the public misunderstanding of science is profound. The second, that scientists need to get louder fast, and those with tenure should start shouting now. Third, that we desperately need scientists willing to enter the political fray, to shape rational government and rational policies. We’ve got too much political science and not enough scientific politics.

Will Obama even mention global warming in his State of the Union address tonight?


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend